NEWPORT BEACH — With aircraft made of little more than bamboo and plastic sheets, a ragtag group of aerial adventurers threw themselves off a hilltop here on May 23, 1971, launching what became known as the birth of the hang gliding renaissance.
About a dozen people gathered at San Miguel Park on Monday to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Otto Lilienthal birthday meet, named in honor of a 19th-century German aviation pioneer.
Although hang gliding had evolved since the 1800s, organizer and Newport Beach resident Frank Colver said the 1971 event sparked a worldwide explosion in the growth of the sport.
It started when Jack Lambie, a Long Beach schoolteacher, worked with his class to build the Hang Loose.
When the class took the plane to a nearby hill, the story goes, some of the students took off with it. Soon, Lambie and his homemade glider drew media attention. He started mailing out plans for the Hang Loose, which cost less than $25 to make, and he corresponded with other aviation enthusiasts.